Jamaican Scammed in Japan (A True Story)

When I leave Japan, I will know a hundred ways to cook tofu, a thousand ways to use eggs and a million ways to cook rice, but most importantly, I will know how to massage your ego just enough to take your money without you even knowing you’re being robbed.
Lemme explain.


The Weather

It was Japan’s bipolar weather that sent me into the store. It’s not unusual to wake up to a thunderstorm at 6:00 a.m. and there’s sunshine by 9:00 a.m. That’s Japan’s weather for you. As said, bipolar. There were no surprises when autumn came with teeth-chattering, body-quivering, winter-like cold.

The Red Dress


It was 11 days, 13 hours and 32 minutes away from the end of the month. I know this because when I’m broke, I count the days, hours, and minutes to payday. So, you already see that I had no intention of buying the dress. I went into the store to get a sweater. One sweater to combat the weather, but then the dress saw me.


You know those form-fitting, body-hugging, low-cut, dresses that give almost everyone an Instagram hot app-girl figure? That was not it. There was nothing spectacular about it. It was simple — drab —- boring — ‘cept it had my favourite colour. Red. I picked it up. Was holding it against my frame when I realized I was being watched.

The Japanese Store Clerk

Yen bills via Flickr
Yen bills via Flickr

She was studying me. Openly. Intently. Too much. If I was in any other country on earth, I would flinch under her gaze. Maybe I’d put the dress down and walk away. But, this is Japan. I am the exotic one here. It’s commonplace for them to stare.

I ignored her. Walked around. Browsed some more. But five minutes later, it starts getting weird. I become too conscious of her eyes following me. It’s uncomfortable. I hate discomfort. That’s when I decided to leave. I turned towards the door and bumped right into Miss Store Clerk.

I Want Your Black Hair


That’s what she said: “I. Want. Your. Black. Hair.”


Automatically my hand went to my head. I touched my hair. Hair that hadn’t seen a processor in over six months. Hair that was now curly and kinky. Hair that had natural roots.

My Black Hair

I didn’t get a chance to want my black hair. It was introduced to me as tough. It would wage and win wars with combs. My step-mother called it ‘bad’. In an attempt to make it good, they straightened it with a hot iron. Later, when I became a teenager, they traded in the iron for a chemical solution. Applied it with gloves to protect their hands, plastered it raw on a head that was unprotected.

I never got to know my natural hair, never fell in love with it — till Japan. There is something in the air here. Something about being the only black person on the train, at work and in the community that makes you want to hold on to yourself. It makes you want to keep everything about you that makes you authentically black. It makes you want to hold on to everything that makes you uniquely you — and that included my black hair. I smiled at her: “Thank you.” I said. “I want my black hair too.”

The Blasted Red Frock

She was still there. Still standing beside me. I was confused. She was looking at my arm. I followed her eyes. Only then did I notice that the dress was still in my hand. She pointed. Said: “Nice —. It was a question.

Nice.” I answered. I reached out, tried to replace it on a rack. But her voice stopped me:


— You American?

— Jamaican

— Jamaica. In. Africa?

— No. Jamaica in Jamaica.

(Blank stare)

— The Caribbean.

(Blank stare)

— Usain Bolt

— Ahhh. Bolto! Bolto!



Okay, that was not the conversation. This was:

— Where. You. from?

— Jamaica.

I Love Jamaica

That’s what she said as she trailed behind me. “I . Love. Jamaica.” I turned, asked:

‘You know Jamaica?’

“Yes. Yes.”

“Really? Ever been — I trailed off. The dress was still in my hand. Didn’t I replace it? Maybe I should just give it to her. I handed it to her. She took it. Then said:

— I. Want. To. Go. One. Day.

—- Jamaica?


—- Yes.


She placed the dress on my arm. Real smooth. Placed it on my arm like we were best friends and out shopping and her phone rings and she says: Here hold this dress while I search for my phone. She placed it in my arm, then said: “Come. Come.”

I followed. Followed her and watched as she retrieved her smart phone. She typed something in her browser. A large number of beaches came up. She pointed to one:

“Jamaica.” she said. It was a statement.

I reached out. Touched her screen. Clicked on the image. Pointed to the word.

“Hawaii.” I said.

She smiled. Ignored me.

“I. Love. Bolto.”

We all love Bolto”. I told her. Once more, I removed the dress from my arm. This time I placed it on the counter beside her. It was time to make my exit. “Mata ne,” I told her. “See you.”


How The Dress Won

She heard me, ignored me, held up the dress: “You like?”

I was ready to tell her I didn’t like. Was ready to tell her there was not much to like. But, I realized she was now looking me up and down as though seeing me for the first time.

“Nice,” she exclaimed. “You. Very. Nice.”


“Yes. Yes. Sexy. Dress fit. Very good.”


“Yes. Yes. You look like you work out.”

She said this clearly. In perfect English. No drawn out pauses.

“You look like you work out.”



Ok. Complimenting my hair — awesome. I was leaving with a new sense of pride. Paying homage to my country, better. But, telling me I looked like I work out — damnnnn!!! I leaned in, Really?

“Yes. Yes. Nice body.”

I took up the dress again. Held it against me. It really had a nice colour.

“Sexy. She said. On you. Very sexy.”

It really didn’t look that bad.

How much,” I asked her as I searched my purse. “How much?”


A week later, as I stood gazing at myself in the mirror. The red dress gazed triumphantly back. It did nothing to disguise a protruding gut that looked like it was best friends with ice-cream and cake. Nothing to enhance a body that showed without a doubt that it didn’t work out. I looked at myself long and hard. My mirror image gazed back at me. It was then that we acknowledged one to the other — we’d been scammed.


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